VIDEO: Wu Chi students learn the art of self-defense in Grand ForksWill Lovelace of Grand Forks is perfecting a skill he hopes he will never have to use. He’s learning the techniques of Wu Chi, one of the martial arts rooted in the Chinese tradition of self-defense.
By: Pamela Knudson, Grand Forks Herald
GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Will Lovelace of Grand Forks is perfecting a skill he hopes he will never have to use.
He’s learning the techniques of Wu Chi, one of the martial arts rooted in the Chinese tradition of self-defense.
From instructor Rod Huus, owner of the Wu Chi School of Self-Defense in Grand Forks, he’s learning specific physical movements, “body-hardening” and footwork as well as the strategy behind effective self-defense.
“The martial arts have always interested me,” said Lovelace, 27, who started training about a year ago.
“A lot of martial arts schools train you to win at competitions,” he said. “I wanted to do something that was more practical, with a focus on self-defense rather than scoring points” in a tournament.
In addition, Wu Chi is a “good all-around workout” that enhances body control and improves balance, he said. It helps him to reach his goal of being “healthy, active and fit.”
As a student moves up the ranks, kicks — ranging from basic to more difficult — are added, as well as spinning, said Lovelace, who has a green belt, a couple of ranks above beginner.
“The moves become harder to pull off and a little more dangerous.”
‘Like a puzzle’
There’s a mental aspect to the art that also draws him.
“I enjoy sparring. It’s kind of like a puzzle,” he said, an aspect that appeals to the engineer in him. (He’s earned college degrees in electrical engineering.) It’s all about strategic progression of moves.
“You’re thinking, ‘how do I effectively attack this person?’ or ‘how do I stop this person from attacking me?’
“When you do it enough, it (builds) muscle memory; that’s where you want to get.”
Wu Chi, which translates as “no-action energy,” is the standing posture one takes before physical movement, renowned instructor Richard Clear has written on his website. Standing in Wu Chi is designed to build and internally circulate Chi energy.
Instructor Huus became interested in Wu Chi because he wanted to learn how to defend himself.
“If I was to be attacked, this was stuff I wanted to know,” he said.
A wrestler in high school, Huus said a friend suggested he look into martial arts and, once he did, he became intrigued by the flow and ease by which a person could control and overcome an aggressor.
“After I started martial arts, I learned a lot more about myself,” he said. “I found that there was a lot more to the art than I expected.”
Huus has been studying martial arts for 10 years and teaching for about six, he said. He has a second-degree black belt in Wu Chi and Kung Fu.
After the instructor he’d been working with left the area, Huus moved the school (the former “Fire and Water”) about two years ago from a West DeMers location to Washington Street on Second Avenue North in Grand Forks.
The “water” aspect of martial arts is evidenced by the total absence of tension and marked by fluid and quick motion, Huus said. “Fire” is manifested in tense action and a laser-like concentration on where and how one strikes.
The main drive and focus of the Wu Chi School of Self-Defense is Kung Fu, which emphasizes capturing that “mental edge” and covers “a little bit of everything,” he said. “I’m doing this for love of the art.”
As students progress in rank, they learn such moves as “animal styles,” which are more advanced and more complex, he said. “It’s pretty fierce.”
Life lessons for the young
The school has also attracted children as young as 6. At 13, Huus transfers them into an adult class. “It gives them an extracurricular activity and keeps them out of trouble,” Huus said.
Martial arts offer lessons in morality, too. “They learn to respect parents, teachers and people who are older than they are,” he said.
“Some really take to the art and really get into it. Others are there more for the games.”
Huus has learned valuable lessons that have shaped who he is today. “What I learned as a student of the martial arts is not to get so upset at things so easily,” he said.
In the past, when something bothered him, “I’d let it fester,” he said. “Martial arts calmed me a lot. It taught me how to relax and not get ahead of myself when stuff like that happened.
“It made me respect responsibility a lot more. It drove me to be a better person and not to have a bad outlook on life.”
Martial arts also showed him “how to deal with those issues and how to look at them in a different light.”
In high school Huus had a few brushes with bullies, which prompted him to consider what he could do to restrain an attacker.
Because of the potential to cause harm with martial arts, he uses restraint, he said, but he has had to use his skills “one or two times to just get away from a person.”
As a teacher, he’s found that he really enjoys helping people, he said.
The most rewarding aspect of teaching “is that I’m able to help those who are getting bullied, to teach them how to get out of situations like that.”
Building confidence and satisfaction in students is “the inspiration that keeps me teaching.” Huus tries to make learning fun, he said, rather than taking “a strict or stern” approach.
“If you’re not having fun, people don’t enjoy it as much, (and) people enjoy what we do here.”
Petite but capable
Tori Babinski, a sophomore at the University of North Dakota, “absolutely loves” the Wu Chi class she’s been taking from Huus, she said. “I believe every girl should be able to defend herself.”
A petite woman at 5 feet 3 inches tall and 115 pounds, she’s had no previous training in martial arts, she said, but she feels “a lot more confident” after a month of training with Huus.
Walking across campus or to her car late at night after her shift at a local bar, “it can be a little iffy,” she said.
“Rod will show us a move. Then, we’ll work on an aspect of it, and tweak it, so I can do it,” she said. Modifications take into account her height “and how little strength I have compared to the guys in the class.
“We keep practicing until I get it right.”
She’s learned that effective self-defense techniques don’t require brute strength but rather accuracy.
“It doesn’t take any power,” she said. “If you hit the right places or do it correctly, it’s very beneficial — it’s surprising.”
She hasn’t had to use her newly acquired skills yet, but the greatest benefit of the course “is knowing that I can defend myself now,” she said. The training “is beneficial for any girl. It’ll work, most definitely.”
Accuracy over strength
While strength is “helpful,” Lovelace said, it’s not required to excel in the martial arts, and may even be a drawback.
“If you start relying on it too much, you might do the wrong thing,” by injuring, disabling or even killing an opponent.
Slender and tall, Lovelace is not an imposing presence.
“I’m not a very confrontational person,” he said. “I’m pretty skinny. I don’t have a lot of upper-body strength; I’m more of a runner. I haven’t done a lot of lifting.”
Still, skills he’s learned with Wu Chi, he’s able to throw down those who outweigh him and, he admits, he’s been thrown by females of much smaller stature.
“If I get thrown, I usually start laughing,” he said. “It’s a fun feeling.”
When he first started training, he and other students focused on boxing and punching, Lovelace said. They practiced locks, holds and various throws.
“We learn blocking and stance, and how you move around.”
Huus said, “You can use (blocking) to take control of whatever situation you’re in.”
It’s all about body leverage, he said.
“If you can sink down to a good, solid base, you should be secure enough to throw anybody of any weight. If you lower your base, you’re more steady and it’s harder for someone to throw you off balance.”
Woven through the physical conditioning is the mental training, Huus said. “You’re doing that all the time.”
The goal is “to know and be confident enough that if you have to defend yourself, you can do that.”
Copyright 2013, Grand Forks Herald.